UPDATED: Police to use discretion in enforcing Hogan’s stay-at-home order
Order allows travel for essential reasons such as food, medical attention, exercise
This story was updated at 3:05 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. March 31, 2020, to include information from Montgomery County police.
Police agencies said Tuesday that, as they enforce Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order, they generally don’t expect to stop people in public just to question them about where they are going.
Hogan’s order, which he issued Monday, prohibits residents from leaving their homes except for essential reasons such as getting food, seeking medical attention or medicine, and getting exercise outside, while still not congregating.
Workers of businesses that are considered essential may leave their home for work purposes, and are encouraged to carry a letter from their employer explaining the reason the business is staying open and its employees are traveling.
The stay-at-home-order also mandates that people traveling into Maryland from outside the state quarantine for 14 days, unless they are traveling from a neighboring state or from anywhere in the greater Washington, D.C. region. The state has posted additional guidance.
Montgomery County police issued a press release Tuesday afternoon that says officers won’t “randomly stop” people to see if they are complying with Hogan’s order.
County police wrote that if they “encounter people via a traffic stop, police call for service, investigations or a gathering of individuals,” they will ask if people are complying with the order.
County police also wrote that “serious crimes are taking priority” and that they are “asking for the public’s patience” as they investigate lesser crimes, but are still investigating them.
Capt. Tom Jordan, a Montgomery County police spokesman, wrote in an email that if someone is stopped for a traffic offense, an officer might ask questions about whether the driver is complying with Hogan’s order.
“We don’t ask if someone is complying with the order as a single question,” he wrote. “We will provide information on the Governor’s Order and ask if they fall into the different categories that are allowable under the order. If they are not, we ask them to return to their homes in compliance with the order.”
Jordan wrote that people don’t need to present documentation, but it can be helpful for them to present a form of work identification that explains their need to be out.
Someone fails to comply with Hogan’s order can be charged, but no penalties can be imposed until the matter goes to the court system, according to Jordan. As of Tuesday, county police had not arrested anyone on any of Hogan’s orders that he has issued this month.
Jordan added that the coronavirus outbreak could affect staffing, prioritizing some calls over others.
“That means an assault in progress will take precedent over a stolen bicycle. It may mean a slower response for these lower priority calls if we are all tied up handling higher priority calls for service,” Jordan said.
As of Tuesday morning there were 388 cases of coronavirus in Montgomery County and 1,660 in Maryland.
Hogan’s order is the latest in a series of steps to limit crowd sizes and slow the spread of the virus. The stay-at-home order carries a penalty of a $5,000 and up to a year in prison for violators – the same penalty for another executive order Hogan issued this month that bans groups of 10 or more from gathering.
Lt. Andrew Crawford, a spokesman for Rockville police, said on Tuesday that his department is still determining how exactly it will enforce the order.
“At this point, we’re still kind of creating policy, so it’s a little early for us to really comment on everything, other than there’s a stay in place order,” he said.
Crawford said the order’s guidance about essential workers providing an exemption letter from their employer is not mandatory, but recommended. He said police wouldn’t ask every person if they were out for essential business or to provide a letter.
“It’s case by case. I’m not sure we would always call the reference, but having a letter for essential purposes would make it better,” he said.
Crawford said it’s more likely officers would ask people their reasons for leaving the house during more everyday interactions with the community.
“If we encounter somebody in a traffic accident or a traffic violation, anything along those lines…,” he said.
“Conversation is how we’re gonna be able to determine that. It all depends how we encounter them. It’s going to depend on what they say and what we observe.”
Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Woodrow Jones III issued guidance in a press release Tuesday morning. The press release says state troopers will enforce Hogan’s order, but won’t ask drivers where they are going just to determine if their travel is essential.
The press release says that “if, in the course of the regular performance” of their duties, such as a traffic stop or crash investigation, troopers find out someone was traveling for non-essential reasons, they can take “enforcement action in consultation with the state’s attorney’s office in that jurisdiction.”
The state police’s guidance says drivers in Maryland don’t need documentation about the purpose of their travel, but it might help if they are questioned.
Melissa Chotiner, a Montgomery County Parks spokeswoman, said on Tuesday that Hogan’s order on Monday doesn’t mean much of a change to what the department has been doing. But the department is reiterating the need for people to practice social distancing, or staying at least six feet apart from others.
“We are really trying to message about the Capital Crescent Trail, because we are still seeing people crowding on that trail. It’s been a challenge because it’s not as wide as some of the other trails and it’s so popular,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For other Bethesda Beat coverage of the coronavirus, click here.
To see a timeline of major coronavirus developments in Maryland and Montgomery County, click here.